Lord of the Text
When I was in High School, our English teacher sent us to the library to choose a book for a book report. I was scanning the shelves and saw The Lord of the Flies and grabbed it because I had seen the movie adaptation a few times. Even better, this edition had an appendix with a word from the author about the book’s meaning and symbolism. I thought I hit a home run. I knew the primary plot line of the text because of the movie, and now I have the author telling me what it means. I’d skim the book, read the essay, summarize it, and get an easy A. I was shocked when I got my report back with a big red C. The teacher said something along the lines that I missed the book’s theme. Because I was deceitful and didn’t attribute my work to the book I read, I couldn’t tell her that she was wrong, so I took the L, as the kids say.
I should have failed for being lazy and passing someone else’s work off as my own. However, I did come away with two important lessons. I should do my own work. I couldn’t have done much worse. I also realized I couldn’t trust my teachers wholeheartedly, I had to be discerning. Just because they were in the front of the class didn’t mean they knew everything or were right about everything. She talked about the “meaning” of our books. Not just the story, but what does the book mean? But how was a 13-year-old boy supposed to know what the book meant if the guy who wrote it didn’t know what it meant? Because if the meaning is up to me to see, how could I get a C for saying what I saw? How could anyone get it wrong? I was confused. What’s the point of reading someone else’s thoughts, if the meaning is subjective to the individual?
Around this same time, I heard a sermon from the Old Testament and thought, “Wow, I would have never seen that!” It was very true, I would never have seen what he saw in the Bible. I’ve also never seen the Chupacabra in my backyard (because everyone knows they don’t live in West Virginia). You tend only to see things that are there. It doesn’t matter what the Bible means to me, but it does matter what it means and what it meant.
I was fascinated when I found out in the book’s appendix that the Lord of the Flies is one translation of Beelzebub, another name for the Devil. And he’s just fine with you finding your personal meaning in the text. The Bible is God’s self-revelation. The Lord had a purpose in the Bible, and God knew what He wanted to communicate. Don’t look for what it means to you. Find out what it means. Jesus is the Lord of the Text, not you.